Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is speaking out against charges made against him recently by WorldNetDaily exclusive columnist Debbie Schlussel that he is a supporter of a Middle Eastern terrorist group.
Schlussel, who calls Issa a “useful idiot,” claims the congressman stated that Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization.
“During a just-concluded trip to the Middle East,” wrote Schlussel, “Jihad Darrell announced that terrorist group Hezbollah is legitimate and has never been involved with terrorist activities, according to the Tehran Times, IRNA (the official Iranian news agency), and the Beirut Daily Star.”
Schlussel quotes Issa as telling the Daily Star: “I have a great deal of sympathy for the work that Hezbollah tries to do.”
She chides the congressman for dining with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and visiting Syria, a nation the U.S. considers a sponsor of terrorism.
Schlussel surmised, “This man, Darrell Issa, is disgusting.”
Issa, an American of Lebanese descent, was elected last year to represent California’s 48th Congressional District in Southern California. Formerly a longtime businessman in the electronics industry, Issa serves on the House committees on International Relations, Judiciary and Small Business.
After becoming aware of Schlussel’s column, Issa’s office released a statement in which the congressman denounces what he calls a “false” story in the Tehran Times.
“The story printed in the Tehran Times is an outright lie,” Issa said. “They made it up. Our message was just the opposite. We repeatedly called on Hezbollah’s state sponsors to pressure the group to renounce terrorism.”
Issa led a four-member congressional delegation to Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Israel last month.
According to the congressman, the Tehran Times story was an attempt by Hezbollah’s Iranian backers to discredit the U.S. delegation.
“We were delivering a very tough message,” Issa said. “They didn’t like it, so they made up their own and put our names on it.”
Issa’s statement included excerpts from news reports from the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.
The Agence-France Presse report quotes Issa as saying, “Hezbollah must renounce terrorism.”
On Nov. 29, the congressman spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives to “set the record straight.”
“The Tehran Times chose to say that we had said that the Hezbollah was not a terrorist organization,” Issa explained, “when nothing could be further from the truth. It has a long history of terrorism, including its leaders having murdered American Marines in 1983, having blown up our embassy, and those leaders are still sought.”
Following the posting of Schlussel’s column on Nov. 27, Issa’s office began to hear from WND readers via e-mail and phone.
Dale Neugebauer, Issa’s chief of staff, said he isn’t sure how many pieces of mail they may have received on the issue, since, due to the anthrax scare, no regular mail has been delivered to the congressman’s office for seven weeks.
Supporters of Issa in his California district began contacting him after the column was circulated online.
“A local Internet person started sending it out to my friends and supporters,” Issa told WorldNetDaily.
Both Issa and Neugebauer were surprised that anyone would quote the official news agency of the Iranian government as a credible source.
“Would you believe anything published by an Iranian news service?” Issa asked.
“There were 40 different news services at the press conference [in the Middle East]. Thirty-eight reported my comments accurately. AP, Reuters and others got it as it was meant to be.”
Said Neugebauer, “I was shocked that someone would quote the Iranian news service and repeat it like it was real. We know that this is a propaganda organization.”
Issa referred to the 241 American Marines who were killed by Hezbollah terrorists in 1983.
“I’m an American veteran,” added Issa. “The whole idea that we would give a pass to an organization that has killed American servicemen is preposterous.”
Schlussel told WND she first heard about the news reports from Issa constituents via e-mail.
“Constituents of Issa sent me copies of the Tehran Times story and links to it,” she said. “Several of them wrote me that they are worried that their congressman thinks he is radical Islamic terrorist groups’ ambassador to the U.S., rather than their congressman.”
Schlussel pointed out that other news agencies corroborated the Tehran Times report.
“[The Tehran Times quote] was backed up by other very similar statements in the Beirut Daily Star and SANA (the Syrian National News Agency), all of whom claim they had reporters there when Issa made the statements,” she explained. “Did they lie, too, when they quoted him saying that Hezbollah’s terrorist activities are ‘legitimate resistance’?”
The columnist believes that the Tehran Times accurately reports on terrorist organizations.
“Hezbollah is run by the Iranian government in Tehran,” Schlussel said, “and I believe that the Tehran Times accurately quotes both the leaders of Hezbollah and its supporters, such as Congressman Darrell Issa. I believe the Tehran Times’ quotes of what he actually said are a lot more credible than Congressman Issa’s weak attempts to brush them off.”
Comparing Issa to Arafat, Schlussel says the congressman talks out of both sides of his mouth.
“In my view, Issa practices the Arafat version of journalism – telling the Middle Eastern Arabic papers one thing, and us another,” she said. “Issa seems to be fashioning himself after the Arafatian Model.”
Schlussel also cites an article in ArabicNews.com mentioning a report that Issa presented a proposal to Hezbollah: Its name would be lifted from the U.S. list of terrorist organizations if it cooperated with Washington in its war on terrorism.
“This is ridiculous and outrageous,” Schlussel said. “To use Issa’s own words, how could an army veteran stand for this preposterous proposal?”
Neugebauer, however, strongly disputed the story’s validity.
“It is nonsense,” he said. “Hezbollah started a similar rumor when they publicly refused to meet with the delegation during the trip. Of course, we never asked for a meeting, didn’t want a meeting and wouldn’t have taken a meeting. The delegation denied these reports during their stop in Lebanon.
“The delegation of U.S. lawmakers delivered a tough message to Hezbollah’s state sponsors. That they would use disinformation to derail the effort isn’t surprising. It’s just unfortunate that Debbie was their unwitting dupe.”
But Schlussel points to the Agence France-Presse story cited by Issa as evidence of his support for Hezbollah.
“If Hezbollah limited its activities to the humanitarian and governmental work it does in south Lebanon, it would never have been on [a U.S. list of terrorist organizations],” said Issa, according to the AFP report.
“Since he thinks Hezbollah’s done ‘humanitarian’ things, in addition to blowing up U.S. citizens, why stop at Hezbollah?” asked Schlussel. “Bin Laden’s done ‘humanitarian’ things for Muslims, too – spent millions on them. Why not compliment him, also? Does Issa think Hitler – whose government provided the largest social welfare system of the time (if only to ‘desirables’) – did ‘humanitarian’ things, too?”
Concluded Schlussel, “That Issa said these things about Hezbollah is not preposterous; it’s reality. The only thing preposterous here is that any U.S. congressman with a history of deceit would try to legitimize Hezbollah through his ludicrous statements – and think he’d get away with it by saying that everyone but him is lying.”
Sunday Q&A with Rep. Issa: